Does Matthew 23:8-9 contradict the Catholic Church's teaching of calling the priest "Father”?
Yes, the practice of calling a leader “father” seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ plain teaching. In the denomination in which I was brought up, every priest was addressed as “father.” I remember them well (especially Father Murphy and Father Jaynes). Calling “priests” father or pope (which means father) is the practice of multiple Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II addressed the seemingly unbiblical terminology in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. His solution was to encourage us not to be afraid of using the "father" terminology, since it has enjoyed a centuries-long use.
Since there is no priesthood under the new covenant except that of Christ (Hebrews 7), and no special persons on earth designated as priests (the church as a whole serves as a priesthood, mediating God to the world and bringing the world to God, as in 1 Peter 2:9-10), ordaining a special man as a priest and calling that person "father" is unbiblical.
Yet I’d like to make two qualifications:
- In the O.T. prophets were sometimes addressed as “father" (e.g. 2 Kings 2:12), and they seem to have accepted this form of address.
- Paul described himself as a father to the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:15), as he did to a number of younger man he was mentoring (Titus 1:4). Yet functioning as a father is not the same thing as being called a father. Jesus is discouraging the use of honorific terms (master, teacher, father), which tend to separate and insulate. He emphasizes, rather, that we are all of the same family — brothers and sisters.
I remember with a chuckle how the mail from my last seminary is addressed, since the time we graduated. I am “Rev. Dr. Douglas Jacoby.” Showing respect is a good thing, yet I think this is a bit much!
At the end of the day, it’s probably more important to function in healthy biblical ways than to have correct terms for what it is we are doing. It's good and right to be biblically precise, yet better still to model correct terminology and correct Christian living.